The criminalisation of surfing on gorgeous French tropical island continues…
Surfers attempting to surf St Leu a day or so ago, in what looks like absolutely firing waves at St Leu, were buzzed by a helicopter.
The three surfers scramble in and gather themselves before disappearing into the trees that line the beach at St Leu, and alongside the old campsite that used to front the break.
The chopper lands and an authoritative figure jumps out and proceeds to give chase, ducking through the tree line in a bid to capture the crims, for that’s what surfers are nowadays if they go surfing – criminals.
Now, surfing ain’t a crime in most countries, but it is on Reunion.
On 12 April 2015, a 13-year-old surfer, Elio Canestri, was killed surfing in Reunion by an eight-foot bull shark. He was one of the best up-and-coming surfers in Reunion, a place that has been torn apart, literally, by shark attacks, while the authorities dither and refuse to make changes to the fishing reserve on the west coast as well as shark-hunting policies.
Elio would have turned 18 this Easter.
The authorities have made it illegal to surf mot spots in Reunion, putting the pressure on the surfers, as opposed to cleaning up the mess they have made with the ocean. No one it seems is prepared to make any bold moves to fix a problem that is wildly out of control.
In the last eight years, there have been twenty-four attacks, and eleven of those have proved to be fatal.
So, as a surfer, you have hordes of dumb bull sharks tearing around the line-ups, wanting to eat anything in front of them, be it birds, fish, car tires or surfers.
If you go for a surf, you are running the gauntlet every time, and any session you brave might be your last might be the last time you see your family.
It’s a helluva thing.
If you do survive a surf, there is always the risk of the Gendarmerie waiting for you on the beach, to slap you with a EU37 fine, with those fines escalating each time you get caught, until one day you’re in a cell and wondering what happened to your life.
So going surfing is hard, in a place that used to be the jewel of the Indian ocean surfing scene.
St Leu used to be a stop on the WCT and was the location for Jack McCoy’s epic Pump movie. In it, a marvellously braided Occy going crazy, along with Ronnie Burns RIP.
The joint was a delight.
Surf schools used to flourish, surf backpackers, surf shops, shapers, there was a full-on industry.
All gone now.
Back in the day, La Reunion was South African surfer’s secret surf destination.
Warm and perfect, coral reefs, mechanical waves like St Leu, barrels in St Pierre, big waves at Le Port and sometimes Etang Sale, grinding reef-pass barrels at L’Hermitage and nudity at Trois Bassons.
It had everything.
Now with this bug flying around, shit just got infinitely worse on the island for anyone brave enough to surf among the sharks, or foolish enough to take a chance with COVID-19.
Reunion currently has 389 cases.
The surfers all escaped the chopper, using back alleys and secret routes, and they all got home.
Who knows, maybe they even picked up a couple of delicious Bourbon Beers – the tasty local brew – to have a quick celebration over beating all the odds, because they sure were stacked against ’em.
Local surfers on the whole, however, continue to remain indoors and don’t want people to take these chances.